Commodore, Royal Saudi Navy (Retired)
Who is the real enemy of Saudi Arabia? Is it our longtime friend and neighbor, Iran, or it is a country, which we have never recognized and have no relations with it. I am referring to Israel. Since the beginning of the Saudi Arabia-led coalition’s military operation in Yemen, a lot has been written about the Operation Decisive Storm and its long-and short-term consequences. Many writers have raised the question that who is the Kingdom’s real enemy. Interestingly, those writers don’t belong to any western think tank or are not westerners. Most of such articles have been published in the Saudi newspapers and written by Saudi journalists and intellectuals. This is what makes this question all the more interesting, important and different. During the rule of the late Iranian shah, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, Saudi-Iranian relations were based on mutual respect. We cannot deny that the two sides disagreed on some issues particularly when Iran wanted to assert itself as the policeman of the region. In general, however, the two countries remained on the same page on various matters. The two sides had never experienced direct confrontation or hostilities. Saudi Arabia and Iran, under the shah, shared common goals and interests. Both the countries used to engage in dialogue almost regularly over various issues. Both countries are members of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). Both countries are Muslim countries with hundreds of thousands of Iranians visiting the holy sites in Makkah and Madinah all around the year. Many Saudi tourists visit Iran annually. And this is still true to this day. The two countries have very large diplomatic representation in each other’s capitals. In other words, the Saudi-Iranian relations should have been ideal and perfect. The two sides could play a major role in the stability of the region by helping each other in the proper utilization of the region’s natural and human resources for the greater good of the people of this part of the world. Unfortunately, the warm ties continued till the late 1970s. Following the Iranian revolution and the rise of mullahs and Ayatollah Khomeini becoming the supreme leader, many in Saudi Arabia thought that the Saudi-Iranian ties would further strengthen. Saudi Arabia is home to the two holiest sites of Islam and following the revolution, Iran wanted to stress on its Islamic identity. It was believed that the changed Iranian policy would help the two countries get closer. But that did not happen. Instead, Tehran shocked the world particularly Saudi Arabia by adopting a hostile policy toward the Kingdom and issuing statements threatening the security and stability of Saudi Arabia. However, the diplomatic relations continued even during the Iraq-Iran war. But in the summer of 1984, there was military air-to-air confrontation. Though Saudi Arabia tried to downplay the incident so as to avoid any escalations, Iran continued its harassment of Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia continued to consider Iran as a Muslim country and not an enemy. But things came to a head when in the mid 1980s during the Haj season, thousands of Iranians went on a rampage and rioted during the busiest time in Saudi Arabia and during the holiest period of the Muslim world. To add salt to the wound, Saudi securities at King Abdulaziz International Airport in Jeddah found tens of pounds of C4 explosive paste with some Iranians. Had their plans not discovered, thousands could have been killed during the Haj pilgrimage. At that time, Saudi Arabia had no other alternative but to sever all diplomatic relations with Iran. However, with the passage of time, Saudi Arabia extended its hand to iron out differences. Some positive results were only seen many years later during the presidency of Khatami but in later years Iran showed hostilities toward Saudi Arabia and they started to interfere in the internal affairs of their neighboring countries. During the past few years, Iran’s intentions to control Yemen and threaten the security and stability of Saudi Arabia have been exposed. Now, it has become clear that Iran was behind the Houthi takeover of Yemen. A group of people supported by Iran and armed with sophisticated weapons is controlling a country that has about 30 million people and shares border with Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia had no choice except to act and defend its borders. The Kingdom always wanted to maintain good relations with Iran but it never responded in the same manner and continued with its hostile posture toward Saudi Arabia. Unless Iran showed any genuine signs to end all hostilities toward Saudi Arabia, the Saudis would continue to take all measures to protect their soil. A few days ago, the Iranian Army chief of staff even threatened to use terrorist techniques against the Saudi capital. Iran is no doubt a threat to Saudi Arabia, even greater than Israel. Written by Abdulateef Al‐Mulhim. Identifying The Real Enemy reprinted with permission of Arab News and Abdulateef Al‐Mulhim.